Fathers

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Trigger warning: this post discusses experiences of pregnancy loss. 

My dentist is called Kinoti. He runs a swish dental practice called Upper Hill Dental Center next to Nairobi Hospital:  all-white interiors, professional, pristine, state-of-the-art equipment…bells and whistles. Over time we have become friends and occasionally meet up for drinks. It started with a love of whisky but then – and I don’t know what was happening in his life – he started drinking cocktails. People are free to take different paths in their lives but some paths are honestly quite sobering. What do you do next when you have started drinking cocktails? That’s only a step closer to having Brazilian wax.  (If he isn’t doing that already.)

Last Saturday we planned to meet at Amazonia Lounge on James Gichuru for evening drinks. We hadn’t met up in a couple of months. He was running late because chaps who drink cocktails like to make an entrance. Thankfully, when I arrived moments before the appointed time, I ran into a gentleman called Emmanuel who used to own a bar/brewery called The Kraft on Fortis Tower. [The bar has since closed]. He was seated waiting for his friends at a big table in the corner with a reserved board on it. He invited me for a chat as we waited. 

Eventually, his friend showed up, some big Maasai fellow who works for the World Bank in Dar Es Salaam. I only mention this detail for this reason. Emmanuel mentioned that the Maasai fellow had lost one of his cows in the village under mysterious circumstances and he had flown in to get to the bottom of the mystery of his disappearing cow. He even put out an announcement in the local vernacular station. “He owns hundreds of cows but he’s so stressed about this one cow,” Emmanuel said. The big Maasai fellow sighed. “It’s not about the number of cows.” It’s not about the forest, it’s about the tree. 

“Like the parable of the lost sheep in the Bible?” I said and he pointed at me with a piece of cucumber attached to a fork (he was drinking gin) and told Emmanuel, “This guy gets it.” Three of their male friends soon showed up. Then Kinoti showed up with his friend Howard and ordered a Whisky Sour while Howard ordered a beer like a well-adjusted human.  

Of course, you can imagine the group dynamics when you have eight men at a table. Personalities are quickly established – the instigators, the stokers, the leaders, the loud ones, the dominants. I’m the quiet one. To my left was a gentleman – a boisterous fellow, life of the party – who I gathered from the conversation, travels quite a bit for work. At some point, he turns to me and says, “By the way, are you the Biko who writes?” I said, yeah. He said, “Amazing! I read you a lot. I write too. Rather, I used to try and write. I had this blog…” and he told me about his writing journey that is no longer happening now. He told me he sells software for a company I didn’t catch. He seemed to be doing great. His skin glowed. He and Emmanuel started debating what day Father’s Day was (he was certain it was the following day, but Emmanuel thought it was that day) and I might have asked him if he was a father, I’m not sure but then he just started telling me about how when Covid happened and he was forced to stay at home he realised that he didn’t know his children. 

I said, “wait, wait. Can I interview you?” 

“What…now!?”

“Yeah. No better moment than the present.”

So we carried our drinks out to the terrace and sat next to a tall warmer that was off. 

“Start with your wife,” I set my recorder on a glass under his chin, “how did you guys meet?”

***

Met in university. Dated for five years. Two weeks before their wedding, as they drove home along Langata Road at 3 am, a car that had lost control (and was now flipping like a rock from the other side of the road), bounced off the roof of their car and rolled away in a ball of wreckage. No time to react, blink of an eye. The roof of their car caved in. Their friend – his Best Man – who was napping in the back seat was saved because he was lying on the seat. The bones on his fiance’s hands were all shattered. 

He woke up three days later at Nairobi Hospital’s HDU. He had lost his memory. The four vertebrae discs on his neck were compressed. He had a clot in his head that had to be surgically removed. Three weeks later there was another surgery called cervical discectomy. “I got very lucky.”

A few months later, after many sessions of occupational therapy, he was standing in a black tuxedo, white shirt, and a burgundy sash saying “I do” at Consolata Shrine. He had not recovered fully- his mobility was off –  but they had decided to go ahead and get married anyway because life is shorter than a Mozzarella stick. It was a wonderful wedding. She looked like a pipe dream. An artist’s impression of nirvana. They were in their late 20s, bright-eyed, indestructible behind the hazmat suit of love. The then president’s mom attended the wedding because she comes from the other side of the river. He comes from Kakamega.  

“I’m still not fully healed, my mobility is still bad but we start our lives, we are young and figuring out stuff.” He said. “She was a banker and earning more than me. I was just beginning technology sales. We were very happy and excited.”

Then they started trying for a baby. The first year, nothing, zilch. At family events, aunties would ask why their daughter was not “feeding.” Of course, it put pressure on him. “I thought, what is this, ama it’s me?” He had stopped drinking after the accident. So he started reading up on whether back injury can kill a man’s swimmers. I can imagine his Google search history. 

Why is my wife not getting pregnant?

How long should a Luhya man try before he makes his woman pregnant? 

Can a back injury cause impotency?

How did the Cheyenne people make their women pregnant?

What’s Nick Cannon’s trick?

Akuku Danger

He kept seeing a doctor who told him to be patient. He would heal but it would be slow. Keep doing the right things. He had, by then, changed jobs, had a great salary, and lots of travel. “My career is picking up nicely. We live in South B, she works in town and I work in Upper Hill. She’s a banker and is very busy. We had one car. So I’d drop her off and go with the car then pick her up later in the evening. We are happy, the ideal couple.”

Mills and Boon forgot to tell us that making babies is easy if you are just having sex for fun. Having sex for procreation comes with pressure. “Sometimes she’d say, I’m ovulating and I’d be so bone tired from work and travels I’d not be able to lift an arm, let alone anything else. It also disturbed me, the inability to conceive because I’m a Luhya man, why was I taking so long? We make girls pregnant by looking at them.” 

In 2011 they conceived. He remembers the day she walked out of the bathroom carrying the stick with two blue lines on it. “We were so excited,” he said. When the time came she was checked into the best, a premier five-star inpatient facility. Labour was long and brutal. At some point, she says, “something isn’t right. I can’t feel the baby.” So he pressed all those panic buttons and a gaggle of medics came in and they used the Doppler machine to run over her belly. Then they later wheeled in a massive machine and checked again. Their anesthesiologist arrived and she instructed that she be taken to radiology immediately. He was panicking.  He kept telling himself, it’s going to be OK. He told her; it’s going to be OK.  

In the radiology they discovered the worst possible news ever; there was no life in her womb. Their baby had died. He was staggered. He leaned against the wall and stared at his shoes and thought, Oh my God. Oh My God. 

Their doctor arrived, “wheel them back to their room,” he said, “give them a moment alone. They need this moment.” Back in the room he sat on her bed and held her hand and they said nothing. She cried. He remembers feeling like this was happening to someone else. That he would go back to his life where his wife gives birth to their daughter and they take her home and she cries in the night and throws up yellow vomit on their shoulders. 

“When I went to meet our doctor he said, ‘Look, this is your first baby and it’s going to be stillborn. We don’t have to cut, because she’s gonna remember that scar forever. So what we’re gonna do is induce her and she will go into labour and have a delivery. I want you to talk to her about this, and sell it to her. It’s better if it comes from you.” 

How do you tell your new wife that she has to push out her dead baby? He stood outside her door and gathered his thoughts and emotions. Then he went in and told her. “What do you want to do? You decide.” She was tired from the 25 hours spent in labour. She was devastated by the news that her baby had died, that she had come this far for nothing. “My heart went out to her. Ached for her.” He said. 

She thought about it for a moment and said, OK. Let’s do it. So they did it. She pushed the baby out, a little girl.  

“They present you with your dead baby,” he said.  “They put her in a little cot and bring it to you. I didn’t touch her. I just stood over her cot and just stared at her. I was so heartbroken. After this, I read a lot about the trauma associated with having a stillborn, especially in men.  We feel like we failed them. I felt like I failed my little girl.”

“Why do you think you failed her?” I asked him.

“I felt like I had taken her to a hotel, not a hospital,” he said. “But I was trying to give her the best.” 

We sip our drinks. 

“After she left the theatre, they took the baby to her. She’s given her baby. She holds her in her arms. You know, tenderly. Studies her face. Man…” He fell silent.  “Then we have to decide what to do with our dead child. We eventually decided to hand it over to the county government for burial.  I didn’t have the emotional capacity of the Luhya burial traditions. It was too much for her and me.”

Three days later he takes her back home, a home that had been decorated in expectation of a new member of the family. Every room was expecting the baby, every room reminded him that they had left their baby with other dead babies and she would be buried in a grave they’d never see. It felt like failure, like abandonment, it felt like hopelessness. It felt like everything and nothing. A deadness of the soul. “What I want you to note is that I took great exception to the fact that the premier hospital never called us. Nobody called to check up on us, to see if we were OK. You are a tier-one customer, you pay for comfort, convenience, and great medical attention but when it matters, they abandon you. And it doesn’t cost much, you know? Just one phone call; hey how are you guys holding up? Do you need anything? Here are some numbers of therapists who can help you get through this. Nothing. Of course, we never went back.” 

They went back to the life they found after this. “I had to pull down all the baby decorations we had in the house and pack them away. That was very emotional.” he said. Their gynaecologist – Double O – told him that the best way to get over this is to get pregnant immediately. Don’t wait a second, start working on it. “That’s how you guys will heal.” He said and so they went at it again and soon the Luhya magic happened and they were pregnant again.

On week 13 they discovered that the baby had stopped growing at week 8. They would go on to lose five more babies in total. However, on the seventh try, they get a baby who comes out preterm at 37 weeks. “I named him after my dad who died immediately after he was born. So that’s life doing its life things.”

The little man is in the NICU with tiny Japanese tubes on him because his lungs are not fully developed. He’s tiny and very fragile but he’s alive and he’s a beautiful boy. When he is strong enough, they take him home and he heals their home with love, he patches all the six holes of trauma with his smile and laughter. Before long they get another boy. 

His career picked up steadily, “we moved to Kileleshwa, a decent bungalow. Kids are going to decent schools. Things are going great from the outside but from the inside, we are bleeding.” He said. “We are the best parents but we are struggling as a couple.”

“Why are you struggling?”

“Connecting. We are not connecting. We are more focused on the kids than on ourselves so life keeps happening; she is working on her career and I’m in and out for work. I think the travels helped us not break up. I was away so much, I think three weeks in a month – we didn’t have time to see that this thing was damaged. We are strangers who are living under a roof. We seem to be moving up in life but not as a couple. Small things trigger an argument. So we plateaued. We stopped arguing, which meant we stopped caring and adding value to each other’s lives. And that’s the most dangerous part of any marriage; when you stop fighting.”

Then the wind blew COVID-19 to Kenya. He had taken a different role at a local company in Kenya to help them grow. He loses that job. “She’s got a bigger job, making her major moves and suddenly I find myself in the digs jobless. This is a guy who was around one week in a month, now I’m home around the clock. I start struggling. Like really struggling. I go drinking with the boys in the afternoon and get back just before curfew because there is a lockdown. I’m drinking a lot. The kids say, “When daddy goes to be with his friends he sleeps too much the next day.”

“What would she say when you came back from drinking?”

“Nothing. We are cordial. We had moved to a bigger house in Lavington. We are barely talking but we are cordial. She is upstairs on her work calls, I’m downstairs helping the kids with their virtual learning manenos, and in the afternoon, I clean up and go catch up with the boys over a drink. Because I had been away most of the time, I found being around the house strange. I realised that I didn’t even know my children. I discovered that my little one likes to play by himself, the older one is more social, always running around; dad this, dad see me do this. They are different human beings who have to be raised in the same environment. It was a time of discovery and humility, knowing that I didn’t know much about the things that should have been the closest to me.” 

Meanwhile, this new inertia of domesticity was driving him mad. He didn’t know how to navigate it. “I knew the schedules of the House Help; what time they wake up and their routine. I knew all the noises in the house. I knew when to move to this room when they are cleaning this other room. I mean, petty things. Water spilled on the floor would suddenly drive me mad. I was now dealing with the pettiness of the household, things that a man shouldn’t have to deal with. I was socialized differently.”

He grew up in the village. His mom was the second wife. His dad was based in Nairobi and would come and go. When he was visiting he’d open his suitcase and hand him and his sister goodies, then he would wear his gumboots and head out to the farm. The whole village would come to see him, bearing alms bowls. “All the nice cutlery and crockery would be brought out for him. So he was a god in the house. That’s how I saw what a man was. Now I was this guy in this house, engaging with the house help.”

One afternoon, around midday, he is off for a meeting. He sees the caretaker calling him several times. He wonders why the guy is calling incessantly on a Sunday. Then the day watchman starts calling me, “So I pick and he asks me, are you moving?’ I’m Like No, why? There is some activity. Deep down I knew what was happening. I tell the guys, it’s okay to open the gate. I come home around 3 pm.” The house is empty, there are seats, yes, but everything else is gone. After many phone calls, the nanny picks up and says, “They are at Cucus, please don’t call me, I’m not supposed to talk to you.”

I chuckled. I pictured the nanny whispering in a dark pantry, covering the mouthpiece. Allegiance has shifted. He is a man apart. 

He says, ‘Cool, thanks for letting me know,’ and hangs up. He drives to Kahawa Sukari but nobody comes to the gate. He calls his wife. “She’s not taking my calls neither will my mother-in-law. My father-in-law picked it up and said, ‘Just go home. We shall talk later.’ the story that has been told has been told. I leave because I don’t want my kids to see that dad is outside and nobody will open the gate for him.”

“What was in your charge sheet?” I asked him. 

“Quite several sins, to be honest. A long rap sheet.” He held his glass but didn’t bring it to his mouth. “ I’m unable to parent properly, ” it said mostly. Of course, I’m unable to parent, I’m figuring things out. The sheet also mentioned my drinking.”

“Were you violent?” 

“No.”

“Were you a nuisance to the family? 

“I was drinking, yes, but I don’t know about being a nuisance because I would just come and mind my peace. Yes. And then in the morning, I take the kids through class and everything, and then I leave again early in the afternoon. I was struggling.”

He went back to Kahawa Sukari with his Best Man. The gate was not opened. It’s Covid lockdown so, “my mom can’t travel down to help. I don’t have a dad. She tries reaching out but nothing is happening on that end. I didn’t see my children for eight months.”

In short, the marriage ended and co-parenting ensued. “Four years now,” he reflects. “It’s settled now. It has its moments. Sometimes my ex-wife will call when the kids are being a handful and say ‘Talk to these guys and I’m like boys, you have to listen to your mother.’ 

“How has co-parenting changed fatherhood for you?”

“I appreciate these guys more. The only Achilles heel is that they get everything they want when they’re with me. I overcompensate. They are nice kids, they do the right thing. Their mother is tough. She’s a tough girl – I’m happy I’m not them. If she says this is what we are working with, that’s what we will be working with. So that’s a nice balance in parenting. We don’t expose our children to whoever we are dating, that’s the gentleman’s agreement.”

“What would you do differently if you were to turn back the clock?” 

“Providing is not everything in a marriage. You can give everything to your people, the best lifestyle. But it’s not enough. There’s so much more. Many of us parents get so engrossed in our children that we forget ourselves. I forget that she’s my chick, she forgets that I’m her man. And we forget to date each other. So I would go back and I would date her more. I’d listen to her more. I’d be more in touch with her feelings. I’d be more in touch with just us being a couple. I think we lost a very big chunk of that because of life and things. Work is great but corporate is corporate and anything can happen tomorrow. So it has been quite the balancing act. Now we know we are cordial. Now I can call, she can call me, she can tell me what she wants and how we want to do it. If our kids want to do this and we’re doing it.”

On the eve of Father’s Day, he was reflective of parenting, of fatherhood.  He loves being a father and enjoys it. The boys are both top in their classes. One swims like a fish. They are “relatively disciplined” and don’t give him too much headache. “Father’s Day for me is a moment to reflect on how hard it was to become a father and now it’s a lifetime engagement. I’m realising that I’m living a legacy and as you know legacy is big for most of us especially at this age when you’re getting into your mid-forties.”

***

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35 Comments
  1. My heart goes out to them for all the baby loses the had to endure. I feel that there is still some love left and who knows maybe they will get back together.
    Happy Fathers day to present and absent fathers.

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  2. Wow! Fatherhood is not easy. You have to provide and be available. With co-parenting it becomes trickier. God bless all the men working on becoming better Fathers.

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  3. Is there a Nobel Price for the first reader-commentor? Here wondering if the big Maasai fellow found his cow..

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  4. There is a lot here… a lot to reflect on – parenting, dating, marriage, loss, grief, households, forklift balance, relationships (friendship, marriage, in-law, helpers, family), perspective of responsibility, hospitals care…. thanks for sharing.

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  5. ‘Providing is not everything in a marriage. You can give everything to your people, the best lifestyle. But it’s not enough. There’s so much more “

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  6. This comment here …..

    “Father’s Day for me is a moment to reflect on how hard it was to become a father and now it’s a lifetime engagement.

    says it all.

    God bless you for not abandoning your children despite all what you went through.

  7. This comment here …..

    “Father’s Day for me is a moment to reflect on how hard it was to become a father and now it’s a lifetime engagement.

    says it all.

    God bless you for not abandoning your children despite all what you went through.

  8. This is NOT how I expected this story to go.
    That’s a lot. Between losing so many babies and the losing your job and losing your woman.

    I don’t have words of encouragement or anything (unfortunately) but every time I read a story like this I remember my friend Tony once told me, to always always extend a little more grace to men. Because, eh! This is a lot.

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  9. Happy fathers day to all out there (all out there regardless). People go through a lot out there and many men hide in alcoholism (not drinking). At least he got someone to tell his story.

  10. It’s ironical that when resources increased,they began falling apart.You’d want to imagine it’d be perfect with kids&riches..

    I love that the co-parenting is working. It is a healthier option compared to violence& toxicity.
    Belated father’s day wishes.

    To more years &good health.

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  11. Wow, what a story, and the interview just came up suddenly, out of the blue. Just goes to show that we all have a story to tell. All the best to that Luhya man…and ati they make girls pregnant by just looking at them.., that was really funny.

  12. So much loss in one life! Glad to see they came out on the other side, albeit differently.

    Update on the Masaai’s cow please!

  13. So much loss in one life! Glad to see they came out on the other side, albeit differently.

    Update on the Masaai’s cow please!

  14. But corporate is corporate… More money, more problems, it seems. But if the lessons have been learnt why not implement them. You’ve come too far to throw in the towel. Just me wondering… Hope this story ends better…

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  15. I believe that the story was incomplete.I believe that the marriage failed because of lack of communication ,lack of interest in each other and the lack of dealing with the loss of their unborn However,I might be wrong considering that the story is one- sided.Their is more than meets the eye.
    I hope that the man,finds healthy coping mechanism first to begin with loosing his unborn babies and his relationship with his wife.

  16. ” I was socialized differently.”
    “That’s how I saw what a man was. Now I was this guy in this house, engaging with the house help.”

    Reading this part reminded me of a book I recently read by Milan Yerkovich & Kay Yerkovich, “How we Love,” Discover your love style, enhance your marriage.
    It explains that for many reasons—like genetics, family environment, personal
    choices, and conditioned reactions—there is an “imprint of intimacy” within each person, dictating decisions about love.

    Many guys should learn to adjust, and unlearn and re-learn new things for their marriages to survive. It would be like re-booting the hard drive, and establishing everything anew.

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  17. Such a profound piece!
    Trust Biko to ask the right questions…
    Sending love and light to them and everyone currently navigating the same

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  18. The marriage ended due to lack of friendship .The man claims he was cordial with the wife,they talked but they barely had a meaningful relationship.They had certainly grown apart as a couple.

    Luckily,the wife was the genuine type,who rather than tolerate a loveless marriage,which is the case for many present marriages,choose to walk away.

  19. It’s been almost 4 years since I’ve been here, almost a whole degree. I think I’ve been ignoring the emails. Glad am here.
    The first half of the story reminded me of ‘ Black Prince’ Biko wrote a couple years back.

  20. “They would go on to lose five more babies in total” This one caught me unawares or was it introduced casually?
    Anyway, the pressures of life rob marriages of their relationship and if not well looked into, couples grow apart.
    Happy Fathers Day to all present fathers.

  21. Despite enduring profound pain and tribulations, this father’s journey is a testament to human resilience and love. After a traumatic car accident and the heartbreaking loss of multiple pregnancies, his unwavering love for his wife and selfless dedication shone through. The joy of fatherhood finally graced him with the birth of his son, bringing healing and happiness. Even when COVID-19 and job loss strained his marriage, he persevered, ultimately growing through the challenges. His story of overcoming adversity, realizing his faults, and embracing the joy of fatherhood is commendable. Congratulations to this father for his strength and for sharing his inspiring journey.

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  22. I read this with alot of Emotions.
    knowing the hospital I took my wife of 5 years failed me .
    she no longer with us , but I choose to be the best dad to my kids .
    for this case at least he can change the story of them but for me I can’t I am wounded forever.

  23. Luhya and mountain babes never work. 90% wont. Any lunje dating one, listen man, the marriage wont work. It is a proven fact.